Of all the appliances in a typical home, the stove and oven use the most power. To get enough amperage to quickly heat up the cooking elements, you need a circuit voltage of 220 volts, which you get by connecting the circuit wires to two interconnected breakers in the panel. A typical range draws 50 amps, and to carry that much power, you need 8-gauge wires. Finally, you'll need a specialty 4-pin receptacle to which you'll connect two hot wires, a return wire and a ground. If your stove is an older one with a three-prong cord, you should replace it with a 4-prong one. As far as most homeowners are concerned, this type of installation isn't a DIY project. You can run the wires and install the box yourself, but an electrician should do the hook-ups.
An Overview of the Procedure
The stove must be on a dedicated circuit, which means that it serves only that appliance. Consequently, you won't be tying the outlet into another circuit. You'll be connecting it directly to the panel. The cable you need has three conductors and a ground wire. Two of the conductors are hot, and each one connects to a separate 50-amp breaker. The breakers are interconnected, and each one connects to a separate bus bar in the panel, making the voltage between the hot wires 220 volts instead of the 110 volts of most other circuits. The neutral and ground wire connect to the neutral and ground buses in the panel respectively.
The cable terminates at the outlet, which must be fastened to an electrical box which is itself securely fastened to a stud. The typical outlet for this application is a NEMA 14-50R receptacle, available at any hardware store. This receptacle has two brass terminals for the hot wires, a chrome terminal for the neutral and a ground terminal. If your stove has a three-prong plug, it's there because when the stove was manufactured, the electrical code allowed the neutral wire to act as the ground. This is no longer true, so you should replace the three-prong plug with a four-prong one that fits into a NEMA 14-50R receptacle.
Getting Ready for the Electrician
Electricians are expensive, and you'll need to hire one to connect a range outlet. You can save the electrician's time and your money by installing the electrical box for the outlet and running the wire to the a point near the panel. The 8-gauge wire you need for this installation is stiff and bulky, so if you pass it through studs behind the wall, make sure the holes you drill are large enough to accommodate it. A diameter of 1/2 inch is good, but 3/4 inches is better. Pull out a generous amount at the panel and leave enough hanging to reach the panel with 12 to 16 inches to spare. When you pull it through the electrical box, you'll want to leave more than enough for the electrician to make connections.
Retrofitting the Stove Plug
If your stove has a three-prong plug, you can remove it by accessing the electrical terminal through the back of the stove. Find the terminal screws, loosen them and remove the plug. The procedure for installing the new plug depends on the terminal configuration. A ground terminal may be bonded to the neutral one or there may be no ground terminal at all. It's best to leave installation of the plug to the electrician who hooks up the outlet.